After my fun and crazy weekend in Seattle last week for BlogHer Food 2012, I really needed a weekend to myself to just relax and recharge.
So far it’s been great – I’ve only ventured out of the house twice, and Mr. Spice and I have set up residence on the couches in our downstairs living room to watch lots of TV (we just discovered TLC’s “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding”) and snack on junk food.
Understandably, after spending a weekend surrounded by food, talking about food, and taking pictures of food, I didn’t really want to think about food the past few days, so I didn’t do any cooking this week.
But now I’m back to normal. And the first thing I wanted to make was some simple, basic comfort food. All I could think of this morning was making some dal and bhaat — lentils and rice. To me, this is as simple and basic as it gets. After all, lentils and rice are what feed and nourish countless people the world over, providing an inexpensive source of protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients.
There are different types of dal, and different ways to prepare them. I like making masoor dal, or red lentils, because they cook up relatively quickly, transforming from tiny orange disks to a soft, yellow mash, in about 30 minutes. I’ve made them with lime leaves and fresh spinach, which is one of my favorite preparations, but I also like making them with the bare minimum of ingredients, so that they blend into the background and allow you to serve them with whatever sounds good , such as egg curry, aloo bhorta, chicken curry, or even just some spicy mango pickle.
This is a very basic preparation and can be made even simpler, if you want to omit the onions, green chili, and the final tempering step. If you don’t have panchphoran (Bengali 5-spice mix), use cumin, fenugreek, or black mustard seeds instead. Think of this dal as a blank lentil canvas, waiting for your particular application and combination of spices and flavorings.
Basic Masoor Dal
1 cup masoor dal, or split red lentils
3 cups water
1/4 white onion, thinly sliced into rings
2-3 green chilies
1 tsp. ginger paste
1 tsp. garlic paste
1 tsp. panchphoran
2 tbsp. oil
Salt to taste
1. Rinse the lentils in water until water runs clear — you will see a lot of dust, specks, and sometimes tiny little sticks wash away as you do this.
2. Once you’ve finished rinsing the lentils, let them soak in about a cup of water for about 10 minutes
3. Drain the lentils, then place in a saucepan or pot, add water, half of the sliced onions, the chilies, and the ginger and garlic pastes. Bring to a boil and scoop off any scum that rises to the surface.
4. Once pot comes to a boil, lower the heat to medium-low, cover pot with a lid, and let simmer for about 30 minutes.
5. About 10 minutes before lentils are done, heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large frying pan. When the oil is hot, add the panchphoran, which should start popping. Lower the heat to medium and add the remaining sliced onions. Fry, stirring constantly, until the onions begin to brown. Turn off the heat and set pan aside.
6. Once lentils are finished cooking, add the contents of the frying pan, give it all a big stir, and then let sit for a few minutes with the lid back on. Taste and add salt as needed.
7. Serve with steamed white or brown rice.